Presentation Recap: Genius Hour Quick & Dirty Tips

Genius Hour (also known as “20% Time” or “Passion Projects”) has been a presence in education for at least a few years now.  Based upon the 20% free time that was reportedly given to employees of companies such as Google and 3M, Genius Hour seeks to provide students with unstructured time in which they can delve into research on a subject of their choosing.  What results is often a product of some sort, which is what differentiates Genius Hour from your standard project.  That said, the hope is that students will be like the employees of Google and 3M: The Google employees created GMail during this unstructured time and employees at 3M accidentally created Post It Notes.

With such an unstructured project, how can one really get Genius Hour off the ground and ensure its success?  Based upon my personal classroom experience, conversations with colleagues, and research, I offered the following tips to participants of STEM-a-Palooza:

  1. Identify the right time to start
    • Are there any big tests, projects, or school events coming up?
  2. Start small
    • Yes, you can have a large and grandiose Genius Hour showcase at the end of the year, but do you need to plan that when you’re trying the project for the first time?  If you wish to enjoy and learn from the process, probably not.  Trust your gut and use your professional judgement.
  3. Set clear expectations
    • Make sure students, administrators, and parents know what Genius Hour is all about, and your class’ goals in participating.
    • Be sure that these expectations are included somewhere for easy reference by students and parents.
  4. Schedule regular free time
    • What are your students working on?
    • Offer your students weekly or bi-weekly unstructured time.  During this time, have informal conversations to see where they are in the process.  Brainstorm with them. Guide them in solving any problems that arise.
    • Of course, set clear expectations for this free time.
  5. Track student progress
    • How will you let students know that they need to work on their projects incrementally?
    • Blogs, Seesaw, Padlet, and Social Media (Edmodo, Instagram, etc.) can all be great progress monitoring platforms.
  6. Stick to deadlines
    • With such a free-form project, it is very easy for students to think that it does not really “count.” (You all know what I mean.)  Adhere to the deadlines you have set for the kids, even if they are soft deadlines (i.e. Project Proposal Rough Drafts due one week and Final Drafts are due anytime after then for the next week)
  7. Store presentations in one spot
    • Does anyone really like having to navigate multiple thumb drives? No.
    • Choose a resource like Padlet, Seesaw, or KidBlog to have your students upload their work (or an image of their work just to prove they did something substantive) to a central location.
    • Allow students and their parents to be able to view these submissions too.  If students only include their first names or their initials and class period, you can keep their projects public.  This also allows others to see the bar their classmates are setting for “done-ness” of their projects.  It also opens the opportunity for discussion around the projects.

As with everything new, it is important to be patient with yourself.  Give yourself (and your students) space for things to go other than you have planned.  That said, I highly recommend planning as much as you can up front to make the process as smooth as possible for everyone involved.

I wish you the best of luck in your Genius Hour adventures!  Be sure to embrace the unknown and learn as much as you can.

-Ms. W.

Check out my presentation from STEM-a-Palooza here.

STEM PLease!

Seriously, STEM is so much fun!  I just can’t seem to get enough of collaborating with teachers on STEM-y projects and I love delivering PL (Professional Learning) to share what I know with my colleagues.

Yesterday and today, I was honored to present to my fellow Cobb County educators (and many awesome educators from other districts here in Northern Georgia as part of STEM-a-Palooza 2016.  This three-day STEM bootcamp and PBL conference brought together presenters from the High Museum, Zoo Atlanta, as well as Cobb County School District, and many more.

I presented four different sessions:

  • Creating a Community of Exploration
    • Session Summary: Learn how to reset the culture of your classroom, team, and school to embrace exploration as a means for teaching and learning.
  • Cultivating Visual Literacy in the STEM Classroom (Co-presented with King Springs Elementary School STEM teacher Joannah Shoushtarian)
    • Session Summary: Learn how to construct student-driven lessons that integrate video production tools such as TouchCast as a means for developing digital and media literacy skills.
  • Genius Hour Quick and Dirty Tips
    • Session Summary: Do you want to try Genius Hour but don’t know where to start? In this session, learn how to present Genius Hour to your administration or staff and guide students (and their parents) through the process and expectations while maintaining a safety net so students feel comfortable in their exploration.
  • Harness the Power of Virtual Reality (Co-presented with Floyd Middle School 7th grade Science teacher Daniel Harbert)
    • Session Summary: Learn how to use and create virtual reality experiences to enhance classroom instruction.  Join us in exploring this new medium and come prepared to step into a new dimension in teaching and learning!

Over the next few days I will publish each session’s resources.  In the meantime, you can find them housed here.

Many thanks to the wonderful Dr. Sally Creel, STEM Supervisor for the Cobb County School District, for inviting me to participate in this event!

Genius Hour Galore!

Last school year, I stumbled upon a remarkable project called Genius Hour.  What I thought would be a fun exploration of learning for my eighth grade students has turned into an innovative community-building experience.

Some of you may be furrowing your brows in confusion, asking your screen, “well what is this Genius Hour she’s talking about?”  For the yet-uninitiated, Genius Hour is a form of problem-based learning where each student chooses his or her desired topic of study.  They can start out with a burning question, an interest, or a topic they wish to explore.  Sounds like fun, right?  Well it is!  Luckily, if you choose to employ Genius Hour within your classroom or school, there is a flurry of research, articles, and resources supporting its relevance and academic purpose.  While it is fun, if you do it right (and, trust me, that’s not too hard to do), your students will learn more deeply as a result.  By providing student with the opportunity to reconnect with their sense of learning for the sake of learning, they will each grow to become experts in their areas of study.

After I did Genius Hour once in my classroom, I shared my experience at our first District-wide EdCamp in October of 2014.  Then an elementary school principal contacted me, asking for guidance with helping some of his teachers explore Genius Hour.  Then a friend of mine, and fellow teacher tried it in her classroom.  Then I presented on it to teachers at a few different in-house professional learning days catered to pre-selected cohorts of teachers wanting to develop more innovations at their schools.  The proverbial snowball effect.  How appropriate with it being winter right now.  Besides, everyone loves a good snowball.

1207151535.jpgI was recently asked to serve in support of a few super-excited and courageous educators as they presented to their principal, assistant principals, and academic coaches on their desire to do Genius Hour.  I could not have been prouder of these ladies charging forth to bring this level of self-directed instruction to their Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students.

The ladies began their presentation with opening questions and ended with those same questions, and a stylistic flourish.  The conference room erupted with applause.  They smiled, I snapped a photo of their impressive display, and offered to help them as they continue on this path.

In my district, there are two kinds of people: those who support students (teachers) and those who support teachers.  I am humbled and inspired daily by being invited to support such amazing teachers uncover their areas of innovation and genius.